Bee Balm…A Piece of American History?

One of the most iconic moments of the American Revolution was the incident known as the “Boston Tea Party”. In the 18th century, one of the favorite beverages of the colonists was a good cup of tea. Therefore, you might imagine that a tax on tea would not, and as we know, did not go over well with our Founding Fathers. After first boycotting tea altogether the colonists decided upon a different form of protest and on December 16th, 1773 they dumped several hundred pounds of tea into Boston harbor and the rest is history.

So, what in the world does this have to do with the bee balm plant? The colonists still needed their tea and years before a farmer had found that Bee Balm made a tasty tea that was also good for soothing sore throats. Almost overnight virtually every colonial home transplanted bee balm, which is a plant native to North America, into their garden to ensure that they could enjoy a good cup of tea. So, if you decide to grow bee balm in your yard you are growing a piece of American History and you can still make bee balm tea today! Simply take about a tablespoon of flower petals and/or leaves and pour boiling water over the mix. Let this steep for about 10 minutes and you can use honey or sugar to sweeten it if you like. Just remember don’t use flowers or leaves from plants that have been treated or exposed to chemicals!

Bee Balm is a summer flowering perennial flower that is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9. The most commonly known color of bee balm is red but there are also purple, pink and white varieties as well. It is somewhat unique in that it does best in areas that get full sun but the soil must be kept moist to maximize its flowering potential. It can have a problem with powdery mildew if air can’t circulate around the leaves. This doesn’t hurt the plant but it can prevent the plant from looking its best.  

It will grow vigorously in ideal conditions and in some situations, it can be considered an invasive plant which basically means it will grow too well and possibly become a nuisance! If you have any concerns about growing it because of this potential you can place bee balm in a plastic container and sink the container in the ground. Bee balm spreads from runners that come out from its root base and putting it in a container will minimize the ability of these runners to overwhelm your other plants. Spring is the ideal time to divide the plant and you usually have plenty of it to share with friends and family members.

As its name suggests the plant is highly attractive to bees which is beneficial to every garden. It is also a favorite of hummingbirds as well and for those of you who have a problem with deer in your garden, this may be a good plant for you as the deer tend to leave it alone. While there are varieties of the plant that are less than 2 feet tall most varieties will grow 3 to 6 feet in height. This makes them a good plant for the rear of your border and if they are grown with plants that can support their stems bee balm generally will not require any additional staking. During the summer if you look down the stem below the flowers you can see side shoots develop. If you remove the spent flowers another wave of smaller blooms will follow.

So why not grow a piece of American history! Add some bee balm to your garden this spring!

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  • Oct 18

    enjoyable article and educational too.  Makes me want to learn more about growing bee balm since mine did not survive this past winter.

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